Open Thread Mondays: Screw Staten Island!

Staten Island Ferry - stealing our money with every rider // Source: Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons

Yeah, I said it: screw Staten Island. I never liked it, and I wish we could just gift it to New Jersey. And when we gift it, we better get a tax break for all the wonderful things bestowed upon it for being a member of the City of New York.

Among all those wonderful things, there’s one that really irks me: the ferry. The free ferry.

Let’s back up a second. I was talking to BrooklynQ last week, discussing the MTA fare hikes and joking about seeing it go back down once the economy kicks in again. You know we were joking, because we’re all aware that once the city starts charging for something, prices only ever go up – never down.

That is a rule; one we all know too well. But every rule has its exception, and ’round here that exception is the Staten Island ferry. I’ll say it again: the free Staten Island ferry, operated by the Department of Transportation.

It wasn’t always free. When it was established as a municipal service in 1905 it cost a nickel – same as the subway. But in 1948, when the city raised subway fares to 10 cents, the ferry still stayed five. And, though subway riders weathered through five fare hikes in the same period of time, ferry admission remained a nickel for a total of 70 years. (Can you imagine subway fares remaining static for 70 years?!) Finally, in 1975, it shot up to a whopping 25 cents, though you only had to pay one way, and at the time it cost the city 50 cents per ferry rider. It took another 15 years until it got raised to 50 cents in 1990, when the MTA began charging $1.15 for subway and bus service.

And then the unthinkable happened: in 1997, Mayor Rudy Giuliani altogether eliminated fares for the Staten Island ferry.

The explanation from hizzonah was that it’s unfair that Staten Island commuters must pay three fares in order to get to work: one for the bus to the ferry, another for the ferry, and then another for the subway ride uptown. Surely, it had nothing to do with the fact that elections were coming up, and didn’t contribute at all to Giuliani’s election victory in 1993, which came with the crucial support of island voters.

But Staten Islanders be damned – the ferry ought not be free. It’s an expensive means of transportation, and when similar ferry service was proposed for Sheepshead Bay, they said it needed a $6.00 fare in order to cover a ride that would be only 15 minutes more than the Staten Island ferry’s. So why does Staten Island get a free ride on taxpayer money, while we face fare hike after fare hike?

Of course, suggest this to Staten Islanders, as one commenter did on the New York Times’ website, and they’ll start shouting you down as spoiled by all our amazing subway infrastructure that takes us to the city. That infrastructure that we pay for, mind you. But what about Brooklyn’s transportation-starved neighborhoods Bergen Beach, Mill Basin and Gerritsen Beach? If Staten Islanders get free services simply because they lack a subway to Manhattan, shouldn’t these neighborhoods?

No. That’s senseless and unfair to the rest of us. You choose where you live and take mass transit options into consideration. Staten Island (and many outerborough neighborhoods) has cheap housing because there’s a lack of connectivity to the bigger city, not in spite of it. The rest of the city doesn’t owe them anything for their choosing a remote location, and taxpayers should no longer be carrying Staten Islander’s water.

Enact fares on the Staten Island ferry now, and get these pikers paying into the mass transit system that we all benefit from.


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